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Definition of culture-specific words

Cultural or culture-bound words may cause translation problems for a number of reasons. Baker
enumerates eleven types of translation problems, one of them being culture-specific concepts
(Baker 1992, 21). Other scholars use different terms to denote this notion. Newmark, for
instance, refers to culture-specific items as cultural words (Newmark 1988, 94), Robinson
(Robinson 1997, 222)and Schffner & Wiesemann (2001) label them realia ; the latter source
also employs the phrases culture-bound phenomena and terms or
culture-specific items . All these labels cover specific objects which may be defined as
words and combinations of words denoting objects and concepts characteristic of the
way of life, the culture, the social and historical development of one nation and alien to another
(Florin 1993, 123). In the present paper all the terms presented above will be usedas synonyms.
Translation strategies of culture -specific terms
Newmark maintains that translation problems caused by culture-specific words arise due to the
fact that they are intrinsically and uniquely bound to the culture concerned and, therefore, are
related to the context of a cultural tradition (Newmark 1988, 78). Drawing on Nida s
insights, Newmark points out five areas (with sub-categories in each) that cultural items may
come from:(1) ecology (flora, fauna, winds etc), (2) material culture (artifacts, food,
clothes, houses and towns, transport), (3) social culture (work and leisure), (4) organizations,
customs, ideas (political, social, legal, religious or artistic), and (5) gestures and habits
(Newmark 1988, 94-103). It has to be pointed out, however, that Newmark s classification is
only one of the possible ways to approach the subject (for a different point of view, see Florin
1993). In what follows, translation strategies claimed appropriate for rendering culture-bound
words as distinguished by leading scholars in the field of Translation Studies will be considered
in some detail. The actual choice of a particular translation strategy depends on a variety of
factors, such as the purpose of the TT (target text), the intended readership, generic and textual
constraints of a text/ publication, and the importance of the cultural item itself.
Accepted standard (or recognized) translation.
Newmark defines this procedure as the official generally accepted translation of any
institutional term (Newmark 1988, 89). For example, the French word hors d oeuvre has its
recognized translation in English as the starter. Transference and naturalization are discussed by a
number of authors. According to Newmark,transference is a strategy when a SL (source
language) word is transferred into a TL (target language)text in its original form, for example,
when the German word Bundestag is transferred into an English (TL) text as Bundestag
(Newmark 1988, 81). Hervey & Higgins call this procedure cultural borrowing (Hervey,
Higgins 1992, 31); Baker refers to it as a translation using a loan word (Baker 1992, 34),
Chesterman (1997) labels it exoticization ( foreignization or estrangement ), whereasSchffner
& Wiesemann (2001) call it naturalization .The decision whether to transfer or to transfer with
some kind of adaptation depends on the degree of local colouring that the translator wishes to
bring to his/her translation. Newmark suggests that this strategy is useful when a translator wants
to attract the reader or to give a sense of intimacy between the text and the reader sometimes
the sound or the evoked image appears attractive (Newmark 1988, 82). Newmark prefers the
more transparent term through-translation to denote loan translation or calque (Newmark
1988, 84), the terms also used by Chesterman (1997). In a similar vein,Hervey & Higgins
maintain that calque consists of TL words and TL syntax, it is not idiomatic in TL (Hervey,
Higgins 1992, 33). A typical example is the French phrase cherchez la femme. If rendered as
cherchez la femme into the TT, it would be a cultural borrowing, while its equivalent look for
the woman is a calque.In order to avoid possible misunderstandings while transferring,
naturalizing or using calques,many scholars recommend employing two or more translation
strategies at the same time. Newmark calls this method couplet , triplet or quadruplet
according to the number of strategies that are combined together to deal with a single problem.
Schffner & Wiesemann refer to this strategy as combinations and believe that they are
frequently safer solutions, e.g. loanword with added explanation, loanword with an
added culturally neutral TL term to define the source culture -specific term
(Schffner, Wiesemann 2001, 34). Baker proposes to join two specific strategies, i.e.using a
loanword and an explanation (Baker 1992, 36), whereas Chesterman employs Pym s term
double presentation to mean the same (Chesterman 1997, 95). The common feature of the
proposed strategies is the use of a loan word to which an explanation is added. However,
explanation or paraphrasing may be understood as a separate strategy. Newmark (1988)
distinguishes two separate strategies, neutralization and paraphrase. The distinction
between the two procedures differentiated by Newmark occur on a linguistic level: neutralization
means paraphrasing at the word level, whereas paraphrase signifies rewording of meaning at a
higher linguistic level. To distinguish between these strategies is at times a problematicissue
due to the fact that some scholars treat the procedu re of paraphrasing from a
different perspective. Newmark labels the strategy of paraphrasing as neutralization (Newmark
1988, 83-84) on the grounds that a SL word becomes neutralized or generalized when it is
explained using someculture-free words. He further observes that in any explanation two
elements are essential, i.e.description and function; consequ ently, two separate
strategies of functional and descriptive equivalent may be distinguished. To be more
specific, description states size, colour or composition, whereas function clarifies the purpose of
a SL culture-specific word. Newmark attaches central importance to the strategy of giving a
functional equivalent and describes it as the most accurate way of translating i.e.
deculturalizing a cultural word (Newmark 1988, 83).Baker refers to this translation strategy as
paraphrase (Baker 1992, 37-38); it is considered to bethe best strategy for the explanation of
phrases. Chesterman, however, claims that this strategy results in a loose, free, in some contexts even
under translated TL version (Chesterman 1997, 104).Schffner & Wiesemann distinguish the
strategy of explanation as a footnote (Schffner,Wiesemann 2001, 34); a similar strategy
of notes, glosses and additions is also singled out by Newmark (1988, 91). He observes that the
translator may wish to supply some extra information to the TL version. This information
possibly will cover miscellaneous aspects of the text - cultural,technical or linguistic - and may
appear within the text or as a footnote in order not to interrupt the readers flow of attention.

Explanation as a footnote may be placed at the bottom of a page, at theend of a chapter, or at the
end of a book. Chesterman labels this strategy visibility change because translators footnotes,
bracketed comments or added glosses explicitly draw the readers attention to the presence of the
translator (Chesterman 1997, 112).One more strategy might be compared to those analysed
above. Newmark identifies a separate strategy of classifier which can be considered as a part of
either addition or neutralization . Classifier is defined by Newmark as a generic or general or
super ordinate term sometimes supplied by the translator to qualify a specific term , as in the
city of Brno (Newmark 1988, 282). This kind of addition may stand for either the function or
the description of a SL word. It differs from the procedure of neutralization in that the latter
involves a complete change of a word. Chesterman s(1997) strategy of abstraction change (i.e.
changes between abstract and concrete terms) involvesthe use of a different word.Adaptation of
source culture-specific terms to target culture norms and expectations is given a variety of labels.
Chesterman calls it cultural filtering and defines it as translation by TL cultural or functional
equivalents, so that they conform to TL norms (Chesterman 1997, 108). For Newmark the term
cultural equivalent means an approximate translation where a SL cultural word is translated
by a TL cultural word (Newmark 1988, 82), for example, the French word bac ( le
baccalaurat ) may be rendered into English as A level . In Baker s and Schffner &
Wiesemann s classification this strategy falls under the labels of cultural substitution and
substitution respectively. Baker points out that the main advantage of this strategy is that the
target reader can easily identify the item which has a currency in his/her language (Baker 1992,
31). Hervey & Higgins suggest using the strategy of communicative translation in cases when a
literary rendering would be inappropriate for culturally conventional formulae (Hervey, Higgins
1992, 31). The procedure of communicative translation may not be compared to the ones
distinguished by Newmark, Baker or Schffner &Wiesemann due to the fact that it operates at
the phrase level. As Hervey & Higgins point out, many proverbs, idioms and clichs have
readily identifiable communicative equivalents in the TL (Hervey, Higgins 1992, 31).